The traditional Tata Steel Chess tournament has been given the green light and will go ahead for the 83rd time between January 16th and 31st 2021. The organisers in the Dutch town of Wijk aan Zee were forced to look for players closer to the Netherlands due to the pandemic, but the complete field includes both World champion Magnus Carlsen and the reigning Tata Steel Champion and world no. 2 Fabiano Caruana.
“Safety will always come first”
Tata Steel Chess will be only the second major international over-the-board event to be held since the outbreak of COVID-19. Altibox Norway Chess successfully went ahead with no issues in Stavanger in October, though Mikhail Antipov having to drop out of the ongoing Russian Championship after failing a test is a reminder of the potential problems.
The organisers in Wijk aan Zee were forced to cancel the Challenger and Amateur events that have played an important part in the festival for years. Tournament Director Jeroen van den Berg tells chess24 they considered a scenario that included a limited number of players in these events, but this plan had to be dropped in October due to the increasing COVID-19 numbers in the Netherlands.
We had lots of support and help from all the necessary Government authorities. This took quite a while, but early December we received the green light for a tournament with only the Masters. Personally I am very happy and I hope the chess community as well!
Van den Berg says they were in close contact with the organisers in Stavanger, discussing and trying to learn about the various safety measures.
A few weeks after the event had finished, I had a long talk over the phone with my colleague Benedicte Westre Skog, whom I also know. She really gave me very useful advice, which I appreciate a lot. Several of Benedicte’s pieces of advice have been adopted in our final bid book for a safe tournament.
The players will be required to provide a negative test no more than 48 hours before the tournament. There will also be tests before the start of the tournament and on all the rounds before a free day.
Face masks will not be mandatory for players, while officials and others will follow guidelines issued by national and regional authorities at the start of the event, says Van den Berg.
Myra Rosselaar, chairwoman of the Tata Steel Chess Tournament, said in the video announcement:
Safety will always come first. We have taken every precaution and will continue to do so, to ensure that the tournament will be a COVID-safe tournament.
Five of the top 10 players
Netherlands own Anish Giri was the only known player in the previous announcement. Now we know that five of the world’s ten best players return to over-the-board chess for the prestigious event in Wijk aan Zee.
Jeroen says of the challenge of selecting the 2021 field:
It is clear that I had to find players living as close as possible to the Netherlands, due to travel restrictions in several countries. This affected the final list a bit, but not too much. There are many strong and interesting players all over the world.
It’s a mixed field, with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov the oldest player at 35 and Nodirbek Abdusattorov the youngest at 16.
Most importantly, World Champion Magnus Carlsen will play in Wijk aan Zee for the 17th time since his international breakthrough when he sensationally won the C Group as a 13-year-old in 2004.
Carlsen has won the main tournament a record seven times and will surely be looking to add to that tally. In 2020, however, Fabiano Caruana proved to be far stronger, with the American 28-year-old winning the event by an incredible two points ahead of his Norwegian rival.
Ian Nepomniachtchi, who has climbed to third on the live rating list after his excellent performance in the Russian Championship, is also among the participants, as is world number 5 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and number 8 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.
Fans of Alireza Firouzja, who scored an impressive performance in Stavanger, picking up 21 rating points, will be pleased to see the 17-year-old Iranian back in Wijk aan Zee next year after a somewhat disappointing 8th place in 2020.
Poland’s Jan-Krzysztof Duda will be seeking to improve on his 5th place performance in Stavanger. Daniil Dubov and 18-year-old Andrey Esipenko complete the Russian contigent in Wijk aan Zee, while Spanish favourite David Anton Gujiarro is among the players to take part for the first time after winning last year’s Challengers. 21-year-old Dutchman Jorden van Foreest is not among them, while Uzbek youngster Nodirbek Abdusattorov and Norway’s #2 Aryan Tari gets their Masters debut after playing in the Challengers previously.
The first round of the Tata Steel Chess Masters will take place on January 16th, and the last round on January 31st. Rest days will be on the 20th, 25th and 28th.
We’ll of course have coverage of all the Tata Steel Masters games LIVE here on chess24!